Jul 202017

Massimi, Michela, and . Structural Realism: A Neo-Kantian Perspective

2010, In Alisa Bokulich & Peter Bokulich (eds.), Scientific Structuralism. Springer Science+Business Media. pp. 1-23.

Introduction: Structural realism was born in the attempt to reach a compromise between a realist argument and an antirealist one, namely the ‘no miracle’ argument and the ‘pessimistic meta-induction’, respectively. In recent years, John Worrall has drawn attention to an epistemological version of structural realism, which he traces back to Henri Poincaré. French and Ladyman, on the other hand, have urged a metaphysical or ontic structural realism, which offers a ‘reconceptualisation of ontology, at the most basic metaphysical level, which effects a shift from objects to structures.’ French and Ladyman want to maintain the distance from neo-Kantianism and detach metaphysical structural realism from neo-Kantian epistemology so as to do justice to the realist’s demand for mind-independence. This manoeuvre raises, however, some difficulties that have been at the centre of a recent ongoing debate: can we really ‘dissolve’ entities into mathematical structures? How can we even conceive of structural relations without relata? In this paper the author offers a diagnosis of the current standoff within structural realism between the epistemological and the metaphysical variant, by drawing attention to some important assumptions underlying the structural realist programme, and to their philosophical sources. It is the heterogeneity of these sources – she suggests – that is mainly responsible for the current stand-off within structural realism.

Comment: In this paper the author gives an excellent overview of the philosophical sources of structural realism: Poincaré, Cassier and Russell. The paper also explains with clarity the Newman problem and reviews the Fresnel-Maxwell case. The chapter serves as a good introduction to the topic of Structural Realism. It serves as well as a good introduction to the rest of the chapters present in the same book. This reading is best suited for courses in philosophy of science.

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